David Roth (ANU): Life, Death, and Deliverance at Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, 1877-1923

This is the first historical study which examines in detail the most important factors contributing to patient mortality and discharges in a large Australian mental institution, Callan Park Hospital for the Insane in Sydney. I show why and how asylums in this era had multiple roles, including significant responsibilities for the care of the aged, alcoholics and sufferers from end-stage syphilis. This spectrum of functions has been overlaid in historical and popular memory by the darker records of the more specialised mass institutions of later years, oral histories and fictional stereotypes. Without this forgotten history, and the disaggregation of death rates by medical condition, the causes of the mortality gap for mental patients, and trends in diagnosis over time, cannot be fully understood. From about 1912, long-term and organised public resistance to the emergent ‘political’ role of asylums and dissatisfaction with a series of questionable asylum deaths eventually forced the holding of the 1923 Royal Commission into Lunacy. My study is pertinent to the question of why the mortality gap for the mentally ill has been increasing to the present day, as highlighted by international and Australian studies.

David Roth completed his MA thesis on mortality at Claremont Hospital for the Insane near Perth in 2015. His PhD thesis on Callan Park Hospital for the Insane continues this research. In 2018 his paper on chemical restraints at Callan Park before 1900 was published in Health and History. He has given presentations on General Paralysis of the Insane and Aktion T4 (the wartime murder of psychiatric patients in Germany) to the local branch of the Australian and New Zealand Society for the History of Medicine. He has been invited to present a fuller version of the latter paper to the biennial conference of the Society in Auckland in December. David is also interested in the history of pharmaceuticals and aged care. This year he has contributed to the Civil Liberties Association submission to the Royal Commission on Aged Care with respect to the use of chemical restraints.

Date & time

Wed 18 Sep 2019, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Room, Menzies Library


David Roth (ANU)

Event series


School of History


School of History


Updated:  18 September 2019/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications